Leveraging the Comparative Toxicogenomics Database to Fill in Knowledge Gaps for Environmental Health: A Test Case for Air Pollution-induced Cardiovascular Disease

Toxicol Sci. 2020 Oct 1;177(2):392-404. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfaa113.


Environmental health studies relate how exposures (eg, chemicals) affect human health and disease; however, in most cases, the molecular and biological mechanisms connecting an exposure with a disease remain unknown. To help fill in these knowledge gaps, we sought to leverage content from the public Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD) to identify potential intermediary steps. In a proof-of-concept study, we systematically compute the genes, molecular mechanisms, and biological events for the environmental health association linking air pollution toxicants with 2 cardiovascular diseases (myocardial infarction and hypertension) as a test case. Our approach integrates 5 types of curated interactions in CTD to build sets of "CGPD-tetramers," computationally constructed information blocks relating a Chemical- Gene interaction with a Phenotype and Disease. This bioinformatics strategy generates 653 CGPD-tetramers for air pollution-associated myocardial infarction (involving 5 pollutants, 58 genes, and 117 phenotypes) and 701 CGPD-tetramers for air pollution-associated hypertension (involving 3 pollutants, 96 genes, and 142 phenotypes). Collectively, we identify 19 genes and 96 phenotypes shared between these 2 air pollutant-induced outcomes, and suggest important roles for oxidative stress, inflammation, immune responses, cell death, and circulatory system processes. Moreover, CGPD-tetramers can be assembled into extensive chemical-induced disease pathways involving multiple gene products and sequential biological events, and many of these computed intermediary steps are validated in the literature. Our method does not require a priori knowledge of the toxicant, interacting gene, or biological system, and can be used to analyze any environmental chemical-induced disease curated within the public CTD framework. This bioinformatics strategy links and interrelates chemicals, genes, phenotypes, and diseases to fill in knowledge gaps for environmental health studies, as demonstrated for air pollution-associated cardiovascular disease, but can be adapted by researchers for any environmentally influenced disease-of-interest.

Keywords: air pollution; cardiovascular disease; chemical-induced pathways; database; environmental health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural